QPR get familiar sinking feeling by the Trent – Report
Sunday, 5th Nov 2017 12:09 by Clive Whittingham
Hopes that an excellent week for QPR may be capped by the club’s first ever win at Nottingham Forest were dealt a savage four-goal blow at The City Ground on Saturday afternoon.
If failing to beat the bottom two, then beating the top two, and having a financial meltdown in between was a typical QPR fortnight, then we should really have guessed it would end with a shellacking at The City Ground against Nottingham Forest.
As we all know, this was Rangers’ thirty fourth unsuccessful attempt to register a first win on this ground in all competitions, the longest such record in the English leagues surpassing Ipswich’s 33 league and cup games before a win at Anfield, and Grimsby’s 28 attempts before a win at Blackburn Rovers. This was the fifth time the R’s had lost 4-0 in that sequence (1933/34, 1985/86, 1987/88 and 1997/98) and could easily have matched the five conceded here in 1988/89 and by Mick Harford’s woeful side in 2009/10. Forest were easily four goals better than QPR, if not more.
Things may well have been different if QPR, buoyed by wins against high flying Wolves and Sheff Utd earlier in the week, had made a bright start to the match count with a goal. But despite beginning positively and on the front foot with plenty of men committed to attractive attacks the R’s seemed reticent to pull the trigger when in range and young home keeper Jordan Smith remained relatively untroubled.
The game may also have gone a different way had Jack Robinson repeated the crunching tackle he executed in the early stages of that win against the Blades on Tuesday, putting a marker down and laying the platform for a solid defensive display and clean sheet. Instead, a quarter of an hour in, he went in limply on Kieran Dowell, a challenge the loaned Everton man was able to ride with ease before freeing Tyler Walker into space and he finished crisply beyond Alex Smithies for the opening goal. Josh Scowen understandably, justifiably, apoplectic with his team mate’s pathetic attempt at a challenge.
That seemed to knock a lot of the confidence out of Rangers and Forest piled on the pressure thereafter. Walker dragged a shot wide from the edge of the box at the end of a wonderful move that flowed right down the middle of the field from one penalty box to the other; Barrie McKay rode a couple of attempted tackles and only a fantastic block from Joel Lynch prevented a second; Ben Osborn was left entirely unmarked from a short corner routine and had a shot blocked wide; Alex Baptiste had to perform a last-ditch clearance inside his own six-yard box as McKay got going again down the left.
Again, there was an element of ‘what if’ about what came next. What if Rangers had got in at half time just one goal down and changed it? But, again, that’s clutching at straws somewhat. Forest made it two before the break and it was nothing more than they deserved. One threaded pass forward from the excellent Osborn cut the QPR defence apart and Dowell was able to draw Smithies, round him, and then finish well past defenders on the line from an acute angle. Swift, incisive, but far, far too easy.
Forest would go on to add two more before declaring. Dowell robbed Scowen (possibly a foul) and fed Osborn to cross for McKay to volley in a third on 52 minutes – all three of them completely unmarked throughout. Then six minutes from time McKay made Alex Baptiste look as quick as Bob Malcolm’s garden furniture before crossing for Walker to volley home a second at the far post – again, both players completely unattended throughout the move. Daryl Murphy headed one presentable chance wide, and struck another past the post in the seventy seventh minute.
The home team were excellent. McKay, a summer signing from Glasgow Rangers, was a pacey threat in wide areas; Tyler Walker, son of Des, did a similar job on the other side; and Kieran Dowell, fresh from a hat trick at Hull a week ago, was almost perfect in the ‘ten’ role behind Murphy. With Osborn feeding the three of them expertly from a deeper midfield role they were able to run amok in the wide open spaces in front of and down the side of QPR’s horribly exposed back three. No shortage of number tens at Everton of course, so it’ll be interesting to see where Dowell ends up playing his football, but Forest look to have a real gem on their hands short term.
But this was a victory for manager Mark Warburton as much as his players. Perhaps Forest play like this every week but their results certainly don’t suggest so. Rather it seemed their manager had spotted something that happened once in the QPR Wolves game last Saturday, when Jota drew Alex Baptiste into a wide area and decimated him for pace before teeing up Bonatini for the equaliser, and then for ten minutes at the start of the second half of QPR Sheff Utd on Tuesday. Then, Chris Wilder moved David Brooks into the ‘ten’ role and attacked Rangers down the flanks. As the left and right side of the back three were drawn out into the channels to deal with it the ball was quickly worked into the space they’d left behind for Brooks to do damage.
At Loftus Road against the Blades, Ian Holloway moved swiftly and proactively to stop that happening – sending on Darnell Furlong to turn the tap off down the flank, and dropping Josh Scowen deeper in midfield to sit on Brooks and deny him dangerous possession. That worked a treat so it seemed odd to me, as a layman with no football experience, that Rangers didn’t quickly do the same switch again here when it became clear Warburton had spotted the weakness and was going to pick at it all afternoon, with Walker and particularly McKay drawing Robinson and particularly Baptiste out into deep water on the flanks and drowning them there, leaving a lack of defenders and acres of space for Dowell to wreak havoc in the middle.
Furlong on, Scowen dropping deeper, is a change that could have been made as early as the twentieth minute, when the score was only 1-0 but it was clear Rangers were starting to have a problem. Ian Holloway, a manager of huge experience and with several promotions on his CV, would tell me, some nobody who works in an office, I don’t know what I’m talking about but by the time changes were made, at half time, it was already 2-0. And when they did come, they were like-for-like swaps – Matt Smith, who isn’t as mobile or as big a goal threat as Idrissa Sylla, came on for the Guinean, and Jamie Mackie, who doesn’t have the craft or goal threat of David Wheeler, replaced the former Exeter man. Smith should have had a penalty when the shirt was lifted clean off his back just before the hour, referee Tim Robinson wasn’t interested despite the bare torso offering an obvious clue, and Mackie should have made it 2-1 with a diving header from close range straight after coming on. But the substitutions didn’t address the problems Forest were causing the system and consequently they continued to tear QPR apart all the way through the second half. Sneaking Yeni Ngbakoto on for Luke Freeman later in the day, again, added nothing to Rangers going forwards and didn’t solve any of their problems defensively.
When I think about football’s favourite catch-all word for any team that isn’t in the top three, ‘inconsistency’, it’s easy to think that’s purely about results. By the word’s very definition, unless you’re top of the league winning all your games or bottom of the league losing them there’s going to be some inconsistency of results. But it’s also about performance level, and the gap between a team’s best performances and worst ones over the course of the season. The narrower that gap is, for the better, the more chance you have of competing at the top end of the league.
There are few better examples of two teams stuck in midtable because that gap is too wide than QPR and Nottingham Forest. Rangers, from that performance against Wolves last week, from the season-best showings from Alex Baptiste and Jack Robinson against Sheffield United, to this collective calamity and defensive horror show inside seven days. Forest, good and 3-1 winners at Hull last week, poor and 3-1 losers at Reading in midweek, excellent in victory here, have won eight, lost eight and drawn none so far this season. When you’re a midtable team, which is what we hope QPR are this season, as opposed to a dark horse for a relegation battle, you’re going to have some good and some bad, and it’s important not to get carried away with the Wolves and Sheff Utd results, nor start kicking and screaming when it goes terribly wrong as it did on Saturday. Ian Holloway rightly praised for the performances and set up during the week, rightly criticised for getting picked apart and not changing it quickly enough or adequately when the substitutions were made here. Such is life in the Championship, particularly in the middle of it.
But what is a genuine concern, and what is very consistent indeed, is QPR’s away record. No wins from eight away from Loftus Road this season now (four draws, four defeats) and no wins at all on the road since February at Birmingham City (lost ten, drawn five). As we found in the Premier League in 2014/15 when Harry Redknapp openly wrote all the away matches off as “bonus games” and tried to stay up purely on results at Loftus Road, you don’t get very far very quickly if you can’t win 50% of your matches purely because they’re played in a different location from the other half.
While the 34 failed attempts to win at The City Ground is a better story, better angle, better headline, it’s the further extension of that miserable away run into the international break and a trip to Derby on November 21 that is the bigger issue and worry for those in blue and white hoops.
Forest: Smith 6; Lichaj 6, Worrall 6, Mancienne 7, Traore 6; Bridcutt 7, Osborn 8; Walker 8, Dowell 9 (Bouchalakis 77, 6), McKay 8 (Ward 86, -); Murphy 7 (Carayol 85, -)
Subs not used: Mills, Clough, Henderson, Cummings
Goals: Walker 15 (assisted Dowell), Dowell 44 (assisted Osborn), McKay 52 (assisted Osborn), Walker 84 (assisted McKay)
Yellows: Walker 73 (foul)
QPR: Smithies 5; Baptiste 3, Lynch 5, Robinson 3; Wheeler 5 (Mackie 45, 4), Bidwell 5; Scowen 5, Luongo 5, Freeman 5 (Ngbakoto 74, 5); Sylla 4 (Smith 45, 5), Washington 4
Subs not used: Furlong, Cousins, Manning, Lumley
Yellows: Freeman 70 (foul)
QPR Star Man – N/A
Referee – Tim Robinson (West Sussex) 6 Not as pedantic as he can be, but that was a clear penalty on Smith in the second half – shirt ripped up over his head, torso showing, right in front of the referee who waved it away. For somebody who’s so quick to award free kicks to the defending team at every corner for tiny, tiny infringements to be waving that away having looked right at it is poor. Not that it had an effect on the outcome of course.
Attendance – 24, 021 (1,680 QPR approx) And we’ll all have to traipse up there again next year now I suppose. Just in case…
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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