The late late show - Report
Tuesday, 28th Nov 2017 23:19 by Clive Whittingham
QPR scored twice in injury time to snatch a draw from the jaws of defeat against Brentford at Loftus Road on Monday night.
My old mate Stuart used to call them ‘The Wegerle Stairs’.
The big, blue, steel, spiral staircase on the back of the South Africa Road Stand which for some reason – possibly a long running A Kick Up The R’s joke – we had in our minds were added on in the early 1990s using the money received from the sale of Roy Wegerle. “See you on the Wegerle stairs,” he’d say at 89 minutes, then stagger up the back and watch the final seconds before beating the crowd down onto the street below with me in hot pursuit.
It is the path of least resistance for the early exiters in blocks F and G and it was doing a brisk trade last night with Queens Park Rangers trailing Brentford 2-0 and resorting to all out long ball football to a backing track of increasingly smug, mocking chants from the School End. With a fourth consecutive defeat in the offing, on a cold Monday night, with work the following day, and Brentford threatening a third goal, you could forgive even the most ardent QPR fan for turning on their heel as the clock struck 90 and the board flashed four additional minutes through the gloom. Ninety seconds of Brentford possession into that and I was among them, trudging up to the back ready to take my leave.
My dad used to leave games on 70 minutes regardless of circumstance, usually having worked himself up into such a state that he couldn’t stand it any more. He was a bit of a nutter. We were out of there at 4-1 in the famous 4-4 at Port Vale, and often only found out about late goals by picking a Green ‘Un up later that night at Doncaster railway station. I’ve been a stayer since his death in the most part, but during periods of Flavio Briatore’s ownership and Harry Redknapp’s management, when I was feeling particularly disconnected and disillusioned with my club, I could barely stay in my seat – I remember a game at Peterborough where, despite only trailing 1-0, I’d decided 50 minutes of watching Tamas Priskin and Marcus Bent play up front together was quite enough for me. We were back in The Great Northern before the hour mark.
Regular readers (hello to both) will know I’m neither disconnected nor disillusioned with this QPR. I think these are necessary tough times which - if we stick to our guns and manage to survive in this league and don’t try to shortcut a painful process - will see us emerge the other side a much healthier, better club with proper structure and infrastructure from which to spring forward in a sustainable way. I think Ian Holloway, Les Ferdinand and Lee Hoos are doing their best with the hand they’ve been dealt, and I don’t think there’d be many better people, many people who care as much, many people more qualified, than any of them, ready and willing to rush into QPR and work with no money at all and a squad absolutely ravaged by injury were any of them to leave.
Maybe it was that, or maybe it was simply the timing of the ball dribbling out for one final ninety-second minute corner, that did it. But just as the pair of us in attendance for LFW were about to disappear over the top, down the Wegerle stairs, onto the street and away to the tube via the usual eye-rolling at Dave Thomas, we stopped, and stood at the back, and waited to see if something might finally fall Rangers’ way.
It did. From a short corner of all things. Freeman crossing, Jake Bidwell (abused all night by the visiting fans) beating Bees’ Dan Bentley to a ball the keeper should never have come for, Matt Smith just about heading in off the underside of the bar. A goal he deserved for a fine cameo.
It was the only sort of goal Rangers were going to score in the second half, but it was one they’d come to close to getting a few times. Lumping it long to Matt Smith when trailing at home sounds and looks desperate and isn’t what anybody at QPR wants to watch, wants to play or wants to manage. It is also, for the most part this season unlike the last couple of months of the last campaign, not what they’ve been doing. But it was a tactic that it quickly became apparent Brentford weren’t at all comfortable with once Smith had stepped off the bench to replace Idrissa Sylla on the hour. Centre halves John Egan and, particularly, Dane Andreas Bjelland, looked a hurried, worried mess under Smith’s pressure, constantly allowing balls to bounce in dangerous areas, taking chances in and around their own penalty area, allowing QPR to turn them around and worry them. To listen to their supporters, you’d think the fourteenth-placed Bees were the Championship’s equivalent of the Brazilian World Cup winning side of 1970, but their failure to cope with a striker as rudimentary as Smith, and tactics as basic as QPR adopted, reflects worse on them than it does on QPR for adopting him and them.
Still, it didn’t look like Rangers’ night. Scowen’s header from the edge of the area hit Sylla and rebounded off the bar. Jack Robinson up from the back for a corner headed from the back post to the front and the ball skimmed the post on its way wide of the top corner. Egan seemed to get away with a fairly flagrant handball as Freeman turned another loose ball goalwards in a panicked penalty area. Scowen curled over from the edge of the box with an excellent chance after Washington had set him up. Jamie Mackie’s improvised diving header drifted wide. Smith’s goal, when it finally came, looked like mere consolation, but it kept us on the Wegerle Stairs a minute longer to see what came next.
Brentford conceded possession immediately from the kick off, which seemed an odd decision from a team apparently so perfect and wonderful on the ball. They then had a very harsh free kick go against them as sub Romaine Sawyers was adjudged to have pulled back Robinson – tea and sympathy for that, though given the previous 90 minutes had been punctuated with Sergi Canos chucking himself to the ground under zero contact appealing for free kicks and yellow cards perhaps hold the sugar. With the visiting fans still bouncing around singing QPR’s Pigpag song in mock celebration of the Smith goal, there was apparently still time for the free kick to be launched forward. One long ball later Brentford’s centre halves were imploding again and the ball was falling plum for Luke Freeman to seize possession in the six yard box and slam in an equaliser. Loftus Road would have gone mental, if anybody had been left inside to see it.
On the Wegerle Stairs, a special moment of aggressive hugging with a random, bemused steward. In the School End, the Pigpag had died down somewhat.
QPR were lucky, no question. They’d come into the game in poor form, with seven defenders and ten first teamers in total injured, with few giving them much of a prayer. Brentford, after not winning at all in the league until September 23, had only lost one in ten and looked ripe to continue Rangers’ aversion to TV games, London derbies, and games with Brentford in particular. Ultimately Rangers as lucky as you can get. Ninety two minutes into a ninety four minute match, trailing by two goals, escaping with a point – this wasn’t so much a get out of jail free card as smashing through the prison walls backwards in a stolen car and fireball. A theft in broad floodlight.
You couldn’t fault QPR’s endeavour. They worked hard, ran constantly, tried their best, but the lack of quality was best exhibited by Jamie Mackie, who cut infield from left wing after a great ball from Idrissa Sylla then missed the target altogether with a great chance, then later miscontrolled badly on the edge of his own box and heaved himself into a fool’s mission trying to retrieve the situation which resulted in a free kick, yellow card, and very near miss of the top corner by Barbet. I didn't think QPR were anywhere near as bad as many have made out, nor Brentford as good, but you do wonder whether trying to run technically superior sides off the park as plan A, B and C is simply setting us up to fail.
With the ball, Brentford were undoubtedly a cut above. Better shape, more attractive play, more purpose, more idea of what they were doing, better players. But for Alex Smithies, they’d have been even more out of sight than everybody assumed they were by the time stoppage time rocked around.
Canos had a shot deflected wide, Robinson toed the resulting corner past the post, Bjelland headed the second set piece at Smithies. Then the goalkeeper defied the odds away to his left, showing tremendous footwork and agility to get to a Canos curler that looked a goal for all money and divert it round the post. When Canos stayed on his feet, he was superb, heading just wide on the half hour with a cute effort then turning Robinson and drilling across the face of goal. You could forgive Robinson that slip, he was sweeping the whole width of the pitch at times, covering for Alex Baptiste who continues to regress and Jordan Cousins who isn’t fit and isn’t a right back – two sliding tackles and a brave block covering the whole width of the field brought fans to their feet.
Freeman’s deliberate foul on Mokotjo after losing the ball, committed despite plenty of cover behind him, betrayed QPR’s desperation and lack of trust in their rickety defence. No problem with that yellow card from referee Steve Martin (funny guy), but frustration grew when Ryan Woods was let off similar niggles with just a warning. Freeman is now suspended for Preston on Saturday.
Smithies was superb whether upright or horizontal – rushing from his area to thump away a lethal situation with a spectacular diving header, then in the second half saving brilliantly from Lasse Vibe in the right channel and substitute Ollie Watkins in the second. That did look, for the third game in a row, like being a creditable and brave effort at keeping the score down. Baptiste had already stood too far off Vibe in the penalty area allowing the Dane to swivel and open the scoring on 52 when Brentford strung together the move of the match down the right side which ended with Vibe turning home a richly deserved second in front of an ecstatic away end. Immediately after the first a raking crossfield ball from Barbet caught the whole Rangers team out and Yennaris lifted it narrowly over the bar with a first time shot.
QPR coughed into life when Smith came on, enjoyed a period of pressure off direct play that included the penalty appeal and most of the near misses, then promptly died all over again when Kazenga LuaLua made a bizarre reappearance wide on the left.
Poor last season, brought back for reasons unknown, poor again this, his selection came just days after Ian Holloway had said he wasn’t doing enough in training to even justify a bench spot. To start David Wheeler up front alone at Derby, then bench him here and send LuaLua on ahead of him in his position was horrendously unfair on the former Exeter man, and indeed on the fans who pay to watch Rangers this season. LuaLua is predictable with the ball and lazy without it. He began a fairly fucking awful spell in this game with an attempted sideways bicycle kick in open play in midfield which, not surprisingly, surrendered possession back to Brentford. He got up and made a gesture to his team mates to talk to him more. And say what, don’t be a prat?
Overall, it looked like QPR had had to run just to keep up. Luongo, Scowen and Freeman absolutely tireless, but fighting a rising tide. An even, end-to-end first half had given way to Brentford slowly tightening the vice around a weary side with few bench options.
But there’s a certain smugness about Brentford that taints their undoubted achievements and progress. Well run club, succeeding against much richer outfits, with a bright manager well selected from the lower leagues, and an innovative and shrewd chairman backed by a CEO who should never have been sacked by QPR. New stadium on the way, upward trajectory. But, just that little bit of self congratulation about it all which is perhaps seeping onto the pitch as well – they have now lost 18 points from winning positions this season, more than anybody else in the league.
At two nil up, they were still throwing forwards on. Romaine Sawyers and Neil Maupay, not exactly the most defensive players, coming on in search of a third goal when, however much you’ve dominated, you should probably be thinking about getting another midfielder on and seeing the game out. To do so isn’t betraying any kind of ethos, isn’t regressing to lowest common denominator football, and shouldn’t carry any stigma – it’s just sensible game management. Not to bother smacked of arrogance, and the Brentford fans were still sarcastically celebrating QPR’s first goal as the free kick for the second was taken. It was Sawyers who conceded that set piece, and Maupay responded to the loss of two points by belting Jack Robinson up in the air and then getting into a stand up argument with the referee over the subsequent yellow card.
Luke Freeman even grabbed the ball and set off back to the halfway line thinking their might be a winning third goal in it for Rangers. A remarkable outcome, and thoroughly odd spectacle with probably fewer than 3,000 QPR supporters left in the ground to celebrate it all. No time for that third, but the rest of the evening for an emotional Ian Holloway to get caught shooting his mouth off about the long-suffering Rangers supporters in the post-match interviews. Typical of his flawed personality to turn a negative into a positive and then straight back again, potentially bringing a few doubters back closer to him with the late comeback only to then shove them and many others besides away again with his comments.
Sadly, those post match quotes are now the talking point, rather than what transpired in stoppage time which whatever QPR’s issues, however poor they were on Monday, however wonderful everybody thinks Brentford are and whatever Ian Holloway might have said or not, was hysterically funny.
QPR: Smithies 8; Cousins 5 (Wszolek 74, 5), Baptiste 5, Robinson 7, Bidwell 6; Freeman 6, Luongo 6, Scowen 6, Mackie 5 (LuaLua 74, 4); Washington 5, Sylla 6 (Smith 58, 8)
Subs not used: Chair, Lumley, Wheeler, Goss
Goals: Smith 90+2 (assisted Freeman/Bidwell), Freeman 90+4 (assisted Smith)
Bookings: Freeman 15 (foul), Mackie 27 (foul)
Brentford: Bentley 5; Clarke 6, Egan 5, Bjelland 5, Barbet 7; Mokotjo 7, Woods 7; Yennaris 7, Jozefzoon 6 (Watkins 29, 6), Canos 8 (Sawyers 73, 5); Vibe 8 (Maupay 82, 4)
Subs not used: MacLeod, McEachran, Daniels, Mepham
Goals: Vibe 52 (assisted Yennaris), 81 (assisted Sawyers)
Bookings: Vibe 63 (foul), Maupay 90+6 (foul/dissent)
QPR Star Man – Matt Smith 8 Nearly Smithies again, for the third game in a row, for a string of saves headlined by the sprawling effort to his left in the first half that kept QPR in touching distance. But for impact on the game, the result, and the opposition defence, Smith was excellent in his half-hour outing and finished with a goal and an assist – and a point.
Referee – Steve Martin (Staffordshire) 6 Bookings all correct, although having carded Freeman I felt he was then lenient on Brentford in similar situations, particularly Ryan Woods. I think it was a penalty for the handball in the second half, but after half a dozen looks my housemate still disagrees with me – referee gets one look at normal speed. I thought he did well not to be suckered into the constant awarding of free kicks by Canos’ play acting, but should have carded Brentford’s outstanding player for diving to stop it happening. Could have been hotter on the time wasting in the second half, although the stoppage time he did add proved more than adequate. Got next to no assistance from two poor linesmen.
Attendance – 13,410 (2,000 Brentford approx) I’ll do a bigger piece on all of this ahead of Preston but of the early departures and Ian Holloway’s subsequent TV meltdown I basically think this… The people who turned up at an expensive time of the year, at extortionate ticket prices, on a freezing cold night, for a game everybody expected to lose, that they could watch at home on television, are your hardcore. The hangers on and soppy South Koreans looking for Ji Sung are gone, these are your bread and butter still coming now. A good few of them have probably been doing the 16 away games without a win as well. They can leave when they fucking want, and don’t deserve lecturing by a well-monied employee of the club.
But then when you hear the abuse Holloway gets from the South Africa Road stand, all of which he can hear, and you combine that with the pressure of the three straight defeats, the live TV audience, the smug chants of the Brentford fans and the circumstances of the game, and then you shove a camera in his face immediately afterwards when the adrenalin and emotion is still pumping is it really a surprise, or a problem, that he lost it a little bit? Football supporters who think it’s their paid-for right to give dog’s abuse to another human being all evening – and he does get absolute pelters – suddenly get very precious and upset when that guy turns round and gives a tiny bit back.
Storm in a tea cup, and sadly what everybody is talking about today rather than the hilarious outcome of the stoppage time.
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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