Sylla night - Report
Wednesday, 1st Nov 2017 19:31 by Clive Whittingham
QPR made it back to back wins against the top two in the division with a 1-0 win against Sheff Utd on Tuesday - a fortunate winning goal, but a formidable team display from the R's.
A brief history of Queens Park Rangers Football Club in a handy, bite-sized fortnight – fail to beat either of the bottom two, dominate and beat the top two, with a financial meltdown and negative publicity storm in the middle. You can’t help but love them.
Rangers were given a big helping hand in Tuesday’s 1-0 win against league leaders Sheffield United by visiting goalkeeper Jamal Blackman who effectively handed the R’s a one goal start in the game right from the off. A long ball into School End penalty box from Alex Baptiste looking for Idrissa Sylla drew the Chelsea-loanee from his line but with Cameron Carter-Vickers more bothered about wrestling with Sylla than concentrating on the ball a collision couldn’t be avoided. The keeper crashed down to the ground off his team mate’s shoulders, spilling the ball behind him in the process and leaving Sylla - after one terrifying moment where I thought he was going to stop and pick the ball up – the simple task of rolling the opening goal into the unguarded net. Three goals in four games for Sylla, 14 goals in 19 starts and 24 sub appearances since he first arrived in the UK at the start of last season.
Blackman, probably seriously injured, possibly a little embarrassed, stayed down and was eventually carried off to be replaced by a very nervous looking Simon Moore who would keep a clean sheet but look uncertain of his handling and kicking all night – no more so than when Sylla tried an improbable 35-yard lob over the replacement keeper and he almost tumbled back into his own net holding the ball. A bold attempt from a striker whose 14 goals for QPR have come from a cumulative distance of about 16 yards.
Blades should have equalised straight away when Jake Bidwell executed a great sliding tackle to deny David Brooks a run in on goal but conceded a corner under which Leon Clarke successfully held Idrissa Sylla leaving Jack O’Connell completely free at the back post but he somehow missed the target from close range.
Quite the start then, a quarter of an hour of hot nonsense. What followed for the remaining 85 minutes was a very different, but no less absorbing, contest than the one played out against Wolves here at the weekend. QPR were much more direct, with much less play through midfield, than they have been at any point this season, an attempt apparently to pin Sheff Utd’s wing backs in their own half and make theirs a back five rather than a three with wide threats bombing forwards. Without the ball, the high press was higher than ever. United, for their part, left out Billy Sharp despite a goal in the win at Leeds on Friday night and went with a muscular front two of Clayton Donaldson and Leon Clarke, presumably to get at QPR’s ongoing makeshift centre back set up of Alex Baptiste and Jack Robinson. The result was frenetic, and wide open, with both teams committing bodies forward and getting balls up to them early. Not pretty, not technically brilliant at times, but fierce, and fast.
With QPR bypassing the midfield more, Luke Freeman’s influence wasn’t as pronounced as usual. In a real Championship-standard encounter, that left United’s David Brooks to provide the odd moment of genuine class on display. With the face of an 11-year-old and the build of Rodney Trotter, Brooks is a deceptively brilliant player at this level and the ball he played in from the left midway through the first half that cut the entire QPR defence and goalkeeper clean out of the game was sublime. Problem was, without Sharp, United had a blunt edge to their attack. Leon Clarke, who’s been something of a revelation this season having always looked like a fat carthorse previously, reverted to type by lifting that one over the bar when it seemed easier to score.
United kept visiting that left side, where Jordan Cousins was having a difficult evening as a makeshift right wing back. He saw yellow, perhaps harshly, from referee Keith Stroud, then in extended first half stoppage time got skinned again by Brooks only for Alex Smithies to rescue him by diving headlong through the ensuing six-yard-box scramble to claim the ball and kill the chance.
But Rangers had plenty of moments too. Freeman lost his footing on the edge of the area just as it seemed to be opening up for him, Washington kept the ball in brilliantly and then crossed well for Sylla to head over, Washington shot over after being found in good space by Luongo. Still, with United sure to remove one or both of their completely ineffective and lumbering strikers fairly sharpish after the break, 1-0 at half time didn’t even feel like half a job done.
Sure enough, the second half started with near constant pressure from the visitors. Brooks had moved infield, and was getting too much time and space to influence things in the ten spot. Not ideal. Smithies made a low save from Sharp within seconds of him coming on to replace Donaldson.
But QPR had changes of their own in mind. Cousins was withdrawn and replaced by Darnell Furlong, who slotted straight in at right back and turned in an assured performance, winning everything in the air, and on the ground, and turning that left wing tap off very effectively. Scowen dropped into a more orthodox deep midfield role, crowding the Brooks space, taking him almost completely out of the game, and really living up to his self-appointed “rat” reputation by kicking, heading, niggling and disrupting as if his life depended on it. In the end, after a professional foul to stop Brooks escaping in stoppage time, the United man took a swing at him and both players were booked – right decision, Scowen made a hell of a lot of it.
From there, QPR were the better team. Christ they worked hard. Massimo Luongo still needs to add goals to his growing stature in the team, but he couldn’t have gone much closer with a sixty fifth-minute curler off a great first touch that beat Moore but flashed past the post.
Jamie Mackie came on for Idrissa Sylla, which added legs but removed a focal point of the attack, rather backing QPR into a corner with their third sub as they needed Ryan Manning and Matt Smith to come on ideally. If Furlong’s introduction had been a masterstroke, this was something of a misstep.
That wouldn’t have mattered had Mackie not volleyed over from 12 yards when beautifully teed up by Freeman after a brilliant bit of approach play tight to the byline. Freeman and Mackie had a bit of a ding dong in the minutes after that to the point where the former turned away from an obvious pass to the latter and ended up giving it away instead. When Mackie did get the ball, a decent left wing cross fell off Luongo to Freeman but his goalbound shot was blocked. Later Mackie and Holloway ended up in a bit of a shouting match, with the manager keen for him to push up and in, but Mackie pointing out that Jake Bidwell was asking him to hang deep and wide to add extra cover on his man.
Clarke had one disallowed for offside, and another expertly blocked by the excellent Alex Baptiste, but United were tiring under constant harassment and, by the end, you couldn’t really recall a proper, serious save Smithies had had to make. Few would have anticipated Baptiste and Robinson being the first choice centre half pairing by this stage of the season, nor held out much optimism that it would work, but the pair of them are playing out of their skins and were brilliant here. Robinson's shuddering block tackle in the opening stages a real statement of intent.
QPR may have rattled through the systems, into a more solid looking 4-3-3 by the end I think, but they really did a job. The distance covered must have been formidable, Scowen still chasing down centre backs in possession deep into the eighties.
The eventual introduction of Manning, on for David Wheeler who was quietly effective in an unfamiliar wing back role on his home debut, and the ceaseless hustling and harrying from the QPR midfield made the final minutes a lot less nervy than you might expect. Three times Sheff Utd misplaced passes straight out of play, a clear sign Rangers had them on the hook. A team performance to be really proud of, and entertained by, despite it lacking the finesse of a lot of what’s preceded it this season.
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 two points off the play off places.
QPR: Smithies 7; Baptiste 8, Robinson 8, Bidwell 7; Cousins 5 (Furlong 57, 7), Wheeler 6 (Manning 87, -); Scowen 7, Luongo 7, Freeman 7; Sylla 6 (Mackie 67, 6), Washington 6
Subs not used: Smith, Wszolek, Ngbakoto, Lumley
Goals: Sylla 4 (assisted Baptiste)
Yellows: Cousins 28 (foul), Scowen 90+1 (foul)
Sheff Utd: Blackman – (Moore 10, 5); Basham 6, Carter-Vickers 5, O’Connell 6; Baldock 6 (Duffy 60, 6), Stevens 6; Lundstram 6, Coutts 6, Brooks 7; Clarke 4, Donaldson 5 (Sharp 56, 6)
Subs not used: Hanson, Stearman, Lafferty, Carruthers
Yellows: Clarke 29 (foul), Brooks 90+1 (unsporting)
QPR Star Man – Alex Baptiste 8 A toss up between him and Jack Robinson, who started the game with a crunching tackle on the edge of the box that set the tone for the evening. Sheff Utd deliberately picked two big forwards, knowing about our injury problems back there, but this unlikely, makeshift centre half pairing is starting to excel. I’m particularly stunned by Baptiste, who I didn’t rate at all before he got here but has been excellent so far and never more so than on Tuesday night.
Referee – Keith Stroud (Hampshire) 6 After a couple of seasons of hammering QPR (four penalties awarded against us and three of our players sent off in seven matches) we actually got the rub of a bit of green from him on Tuesday – particularly two obvious fouls on their wingers on the Ellerslie Road side of the ground in dangerous positions right at the end of the first half which drew justified ire from the large travelling support. Cousins booking harsh, Clarke booking justified but didn’t feel like it was coming until the crowd went a bit mental, called the Brooks thing right at the end of the game – not a red card. Fine, relatively. I suspect a Sheff Utd fan would give him a four.
Attendance – 13,604 (1,800 Sheff Utd approx.) Team deserves more people coming to watch, but those that are seem to be enjoying what they’re seeing and backing them accordingly. If the vile, overpaid, egotistical, underperforming, heartless, gutless tossers that have been playing for QPR over the past few years have put you off that’s understandable. But if you have drifted away, then come back and watch these boys. Night and day.
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