QPR end horrible week on high, stunning Wolves - Report
Sunday, 29th Oct 2017 12:31 by Clive Whittingham
Seven without a win and at the end of a difficult fortnight, QPR bounced back off the canvass to beat high-flying Wolves with their best performance of the season on Saturday.
Wolves’ club mantra is ‘Out of the darkness, cometh light’, but on Saturday it was QPR that put a bleak week behind them sent their long-suffering supporters home smiling at Wanderers’ expense.
One of those days at Loftus Road followed one of those weeks in the recent history of Queens Park Rangers. Allegations of sexual assault by a professional footballer against a former member of the QPR Ladies team, naturally and disgracefully illustrated by The S** with swimwear holiday photographs stolen from her Instagram account, was swiftly followed by a raft of doomsday headlines about a potential £40m+ Financial Fair Play (FFP) fine on Tuesday.
Often in such circumstances it’s a relief to get back to focusing on matters on the pitch, but having failed to beat either of the bottom two in the Championship away from home last week and on a run of seven games without a win QPR could scarcely have asked for a tougher return to Loftus Road than the top two in the league due in Shepherd’s Bush inside four days.
The arrival of Wolves in West London, a club rolling their own FFP dice under the “advice” of super-agent Jorge Mendes in an attempt to return to the Premier League for the first time since 2012, was ironically timed. They’d gone 120 minutes with Manchester City in the League Cup during the week but made a succession of changes for that tie to negate any after effects and arrived with just two defeats to their name all season in the Championship and three straight wins prior to this tie. Playing in a unique system where half the team defends, the other half attacks, and the only link between the two is the youngest ever captain of Porto, £16m Ruben Neves, they represented formidable opposition.
Sure enough, in flashes, they were able to open QPR up like a can of sardines. Never more so than two minutes before half time when Alex Baptiste turned down the chance to commit a professional foul on livewire winger Diogo Jota tight to the South Africa Road touchline and the Portuguese wideman punished him by stripping him for pace and skill on the outside then cutting it back for in-form Leo Bonatini to fire into the roof of the net.
Bonatini would miss an easier chance on the hour, somehow lifting it over the bar after a one-two on the edge of the box had cut QPR apart, and later Jota shot weakly when played through and Alex Smithies saved well after advancing off his line to narrow the angle.
But there are few more potent threats than an Ian Holloway QPR side with its back pressed to the wall. So many times through his two spells as manager his team has come out swinging just when it seemed they were out for the count, not least at Molineux against Wolves last Christmas when a run of six consecutive losses was snapped with a surprise 2-1 win. Saturday’s encounter between the sides joins that, the 3-2 win against Plymouth when Ramon Diaz was waiting in the wings, the 1-1 with Brentford after the Vauxhall Motors debacle and others besides. A win, and a win in some style as well.
Yes, Wolves looked good at times, but only in fits and starts. They were hamstrung by first Ivan Cavaleiro and then later substitute striker Bright Enobakhare’s apparent total lack of knowledge of how the offside law works. When Cavaleiro did finally get through on goal with the flag down, he flung himself theatrically to ground in the penalty box under minimal contact from Jack Robinson. Referee Tony Harrington, excellent all afternoon, waved the half-hearted appeals away.
This was no smash and grab effort. This wasn’t an inferior team sticking everybody behind the ball and trying to hold on. This wasn’t done on the counter attack, nor by holding out for as long as possible and nicking something from a set piece. This was a proper performance, full of tempo and effort, dominant with and without the ball, and really good to watch. QPR took Wolves on, stood toe to toe, and deservedly beat them playing football. Only Brentford (129) have had more shots on goal in the Championship this season than QPR’s 112 and they added another 17 off target and six on to the total here.
The quality players Wolves have furnished their team with were outshone, in particular, by QPR’s dynamic midfield three. Luke Freeman, busy, pugnacious, awkward, brilliant in tight spaces; Massimo Luongo, finally grabbing games by the scruff of the neck and effecting them where once they passed him by; and Josh Scowen, ratting behind them and freeing them to do damage further forwards.
Holloway picked the right team. Joel Lynch looked much better for being moved to the middle centre back position, where his propensity to get turned into the channel by fleet-footed forwards wasn’t exposed as much – a shame that after his first good performance for a long time he picked up a booking for a tactical foul in stoppage time and now misses Sheffield United on Tuesday. Jack Robinson, back from a broken hand, slotted in to his left and was excellent, with Jake Bidwell having his best game for the club to the left of that. Jordan Cousins was an interesting selection at right wing back, and while he looked understandably rusty after 11 months out he did provide an important aerial outlet for Lynch and Smithies to hit with an outball if Wolves threatened to overawe them.
Having selected Jamie Mackie against two poor teams when goals were required last week, it seemed odd to leave him out against a side that plays out from the back and could be got at with a high press, but Conor Washington rewarded the manager’s faith with a goal. He’d already shot over and hooked one over his shoulder for Ruddy to save after Bidwell had nodded across the area when Massimo Luongo steamed into a tackle deep in Wolves territory sending the ball into the former Peterborough striker’s path and after a piece of immaculate control gave him the chance to get round Ruddy he finished high into the roof of the net from a tight angle. Four for the season now, and just four minutes to hang on until half time.
It was gutting, having played so well and taken the lead so late in the day, not to see it through to the break, particularly as Baptiste could have taken one for the team and stopped it at source – Wolves equalised almost straight from the kick off. But that didn’t knock the team’s confidence, nor the mood among the crowd where hope and noise was building in equal measure. Freeman set the tone for the second half with a deflected shot off the bar within five minutes of the restart that had Ruddy beaten.
The penalty appeal and Bonatini sitter followed in Wolves’ best spell, but Holloway responded by adding Pawel Wszolek and Matt Smith for the tiring Cousins and Idrissa Sylla and Rangers came again. Bidwell’s chipped cross with the outside of the left boot was nodded just wide by Smith, then when Ruddy embarked on a fool’s mission to the edge of the box Smith headed the ball into Washington’s path for a lobbed effort that was cleared from the line by Wolves’ increasingly panicked centre back Danny Batth.
Quite how QPR turned their own throw in into Enobakhare running clear into the penalty area only Rangers will know. Lukcily his was one of the dumbest cameo appearances I’ve ever seen on this ground and, like everything else he tried, he made a right hash of it leaving Rangers free to press for a winner.
That came eight minutes from time when first Luongo and then Freeman were fouled right on the cusp of the Wolves box. Harrington played advantage through the first challenge, then penalised the second leaving a very presentable free kick which Josh Scowen drilled into the wall. Rangers kept the pressure on though and when Joel Lynch, of all people, crossed beautifully from the left, Matt Smith attacked the ball with real purpose and found that bottom corner with a powerful effort at the second time of asking. Noise.
Smith has plenty of shortcomings in his game, but as an impact substitute he’s very useful and one thing he can do is take three big steps across the front of a static defender and find the bottom corner from a left wing cross. A trademark goal, a further indication that QPR need to service their two big strikers better from wide – just the three wingers among the substitutes for this one.
Five minutes of stoppage time was terrifying because of our emotional investment in it, rather than because Wolves were posing any great threat on the goal. Saiss fouling an isolated Matt Smith, taking a yellow card and allowing QPR to run the clock down further, utterly stupid.
Queens Park Rangers, amidst a never-ending stream of criticism for the team, manager, director of football and CEO, and battling a very difficult financial situation of their own making, are now just four points off the play off places.
QPR: Smithies 7; Baptiste 6, Lynch 7, Robinson 8; Cousins 6 (Wszolek 66, 6), Bidwell 8; Scowen 8, Freeman 7 (Furlong 90+2, -), Luongo 8; Washington 7, Sylla 6 (Smith 66, 7)
Subs not used: Mackie, Ngbakoto, Lumley, Wheeler
Goals: Washington 41 (assisted Luongo), Smith 82 (assisted Lynch)
Bookings: Bidwell 45+1 (foul), Luongo 79 (foul), Lynch 90+6 (foul)
Wolves: Ruddy 6; Batth 5, Coady 5, Doherty 6, Douglas 7; Neves 6 (Marshall 84, -), Miranda 6, Saiss 6; Cavaleiro 4 (Costa 57, 6), Bonatini 6 (Enobakhareat 71, 4), Jota 7
Subs not used: N’Diaye, Bennett, Boly, Norris
Goals: Bonatini 43 (assisted Jota)
Bookings: Saiss 90+5 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Massimo Luongo 8 So nice to have a wide selection to choose from with Joel Lynch looking much better as the middle centre back in the three rather than on the edge, Jack Robinson excelling to his left, Jake Bidwell having his best game for the club, and the midfield three all in typically dynamic form. But of that middle trio, I thought Luongo was the standout man, an all-action performance crowned with the lesser-spotted tackle assist for the first goal.
Referee – Tony Harrington (Cleveland) 9 I continue to be disconcertingly impressed with the quality of Championship refereeing this season, and how there seems to be a concerted effort not to smother games with cards and endless whistle. I suspect the Wolves equivalent of this site would give him a five and say they should have had a penalty but I thought that would have been soft and he set his stall out early on that just because there’s contact, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a foul. By waving away a few early cheap ones he contributed to the flow and tempo of the game.
Attendance – 16,004 (2,800 Wolves approx) Come and watch this QPR team, they’re worth your time and money when they click like this.
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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